The ancient Greeks believed that inspiration came from the Muses, goddesses who came down from Olympus to help common mortals create great works of art. But nowadays we know that creative minds get their ideas from pretty much whatever random shit comes their way.
This even goes for some of the most famous characters in recent pop culture history ...
5 Stan Lee's Laziness Led to the X-Men
The hardest part of coming up with a new superhero is the origin story. You can't just have a guy in spider-themed pajamas shooting webs out of his palms with no explanation -- that would be ridiculous. There has to be this whole elaborate (and often grossly implausible) backstory about how he became who he is. And you have to put some thought into it, because you just know there will eventually be six or seven movie reboots covering that exact part of the story.
"Let's go realistic and gloomy for this one. Third time's a charm."
Well, the Patron Saint of Comics, Stan Lee, was all too aware of this when he was trying to develop a new team of heroes back in the early 1960s. How in the hell do you come up with a story for every one of these "X-Men" characters that explains how they all got different powers at once? So Lee said, and this is the actual quote:
"What if they were just born that way? Everybody knows there are mutations in real life. There are frogs that are born with five legs and so forth. I can get these guys to have any power I want. I'll just say, 'Well, they're mutants. They were born that way.' Nobody can argue with that!"
Sadly, Lee didn't go on to create Five-Legged Frog Man, but this is how we got basically all of the X-Men: characters with insane powers who have them just ... because.
The spirit of not trying would live on in every X-movie.
From there, it was easy -- Angel got his wings because Marvel hadn't made a character who could fly yet; Iceman came about because Lee wanted a second Human Torch, so he built a power based on the opposite of fire. And to quote the man on Marvel Girl: "I hated the name Marvel Girl, but I couldn't think of anything better." OK, maybe it's better sometimes to not know how your favorite things are made.
He did eventually come up with something better than Laser Dong.
Make no mistake -- these are some of the most beloved characters in comic book history, and it's specifically because of who they are. The X-Men are hated by the world purely because they were born different -- it's not hard to see why that resonated with fans. Who knows how things would have turned out if Lee had spent a whole weekend inventing various radioactive animals to bite each of these people.
4 A Simple (Yet Creepy) Misunderstanding Gave Us Hannibal Lecter
Lots of crime novels and movies are vaguely based on real-life events -- a writer reads about some psychopath with a burned face murdering teenagers and thinks, "What if that guy had knife hands?" But the story of how Thomas Harris, the author of the Hannibal Lecter novels, came up with his most famous character is much creepier ... and totally random.
In the 1960s, Harris was writing for a magazine and was sent to a Mexican prison to interview Dykes Askew Simmons, an American inmate on death row for triple murder. Presumably his first question was "What the hell were your parents thinking when they named you?" Simmons, however, was not the model for Hannibal Lecter -- he was nothing like him.
The Evening Independent
"Well, for starters, I'm allergic to fava beans."
During the interview, Simmons told Harris a story about how he got shot by a prison guard, but his life was saved by a doctor. Wanting to get more details for his article, Harris asked to be taken to the doctor ("Dr. Salazar"), whom he naturally assumed was the prison's resident physician. If you're familiar with any of the Hannibal movies, you have some idea of what happened next.
No, that was when he left.
Rather than talk about the shooting, Salazar seemed more interested in manipulating Harris into psychoanalyzing Simmons, questioning the writer about Simmons' physical disfigurements, his victims, and "the nature of torment," a topic that rarely comes up outside of chats with murderers and truly disastrous first dates. Despite that, Harris admitted that the man had a "certain elegance" about him. After the meeting, Harris asked the prison warden how long Salazar had been working there, only to be told that the man was in fact an inmate -- one deemed too insane to ever leave. Salazar had been a surgeon who had used his skills to "package his victim in a surprisingly small box."
New Line Cinema
He was "inappropriate use of sporting goods" away from serial killer bingo.
Years later, Harris would write Red Dragon and use the idea of an insane, murderous doctor with a knack for understanding other killers as the template for his liver-munching psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter. Of course, as often happens in real life, Salazar's actual story doesn't involve a spectacular escape that includes flaying guards alive. Yes, Salazar actually did end up getting out of jail, but he dedicated himself to providing medical assistance to the elderly until he died in 2009. Quick, somebody make a feel-good Silence of the Lambs sequel about that!